TITLE: Reinvention of the Wheel
DATE: 12/21/2004 07:20:00 PM
I watched the Kennedy Center honor John Williams tonight for his music achievement. As the U.S. Marine Corps band performed the themes from Star Wars, Indiana Jones, Harry Potter, Jurassic Park, Superman, Jaws, E.T., Close Encounters… Whew. Then, it hit me!
This man has made a life’s work out of the same set of familiar chords. Different patterns. Differing intensity. A dizzying array of diversity amongst a definitively narrow deck of cards.
I’m not demeaning John Williams’ accomplishment. Are you joking? I hear the tune to Star Wars (like nearly everyone of my generation) and I get all giddy and excited.
No, I’m praising the man! He invented, then reinvented, then reinvented over and over again… and again… and again.
This is a HUGE lesson to me and to you.
How can you make your art interesting? How can you keep people interested? How can you build followers?
Discover what your passion is. Find a bag of tricks that work. Unearth what skills you have that others don’t all posses. Look at your techniques and see what sensibilities you harbor.
Then round it alllllll up, toss it in a bag, shake it up and, “Yahtzee!,” toss out something fresh. Jumble it all up and do it again. And again. When you toss out a dud (because you inevitably will), try again.
Maybe your strength is in a particular method of mark-making. Perhaps you have a way of seeing your subject or realizing a sense of depth that is striking. It could be that color is your 'thing'.
Whatever it is... When you find something that works, there is a tendency to get bored or feel that you’ve overplayed it or ‘worn it out’. It's important though to remember that balancing the new with repetition is what develops a style. Repeating your style is what can create a legacy.
I admit... It’s thin ice to skate on because you have to constantly balance and re-adjust. Even John Williams encountered this dilemma.
We all know the theme from Jaws… two notes played over and over, driven to a frenzied pace. Sure, Williams new it was ridiculously simple but as he said then, “I really think that’s all you need.”
He took what he knew, applied it, simplified it, and then risked sitting back to hear the reaction. Well, we know now that audiences loved it. It wasn’t the greatest masterpiece every written, but it was a success. And it boosted him to other projects. Simplicity is what audiences appreciated and it's what we still continue to appreciate. Simplicity and clarity is Williams' trick; Identify a phrase and repeating it until it is memorable and it sings on it's own in your head.
So, don’t be afraid to re-use your bag of tricks in a fresh way. Don’t worry that everything needs to be complex and over the top. Sometimes what works just works. There is no explaining it.
If the pieces just fit, keep marching forward, trying to rearrange them to fit yet again... in another new configuration.